SOLANA BEACH — Despite requests from the owners of several restaurants, including one that dates back to 1946, to reconsider banning polystyrene containers, council members at the Oct. 14 meeting moved one step away from becoming the first city in San Diego County to prohibit the products.
Last month city officials directed staff to create the new law because the material used to make items such as to-go containers and packing peanuts and noodles is considered an environmental nightmare.
As the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation noted in its letter of support for the ban, polystyrene containers are made from a nonrenewable resource. They don’t biodegrade, are difficult to recycle and are a serious and preventable source of marine debris pollution.
The products often break into small pieces, end up in the ocean and are eaten by marine animals.
According to some estimates, 377,580 tons of expanded polystyrene are produced in California. Of that 154,800 tons are used to make food-service packaging that ends up in landfills.
Waste Management, the city’s residential waste hauler, doesn’t recycle the products. EDCO, which handles commercial trash in Solana Beach, does so but on a limited basis.
To ensure the containers don’t present health problems they must be thoroughly cleaned and in “near pristine condition to be recycled,” Dan King, assistant to the city manager, said.
He said research shows only about 1 percent of the products are recycled statewide.
The Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of 63 businesses in the city that sell food or beverages. Only 18 still use polystyrene containers.
According to the staff report the main concern expressed by business owners is cost.
Cecilia Robledo, co-owner of Roberto’s, said she pays $8.50 for 100 containers at Smart & Final. The alternative is $14.99 for 50 pieces.
“It does add up,” Robledo said, adding that she currently uses about 300 to 400 containers a week. “There’s only so much we can increase our prices. There’s no way we can triple our prices.”
“Costs are very important for small businesses like us,” Jiwon Lee, the owner of Annie’s Café and Deli, stated in one of five handwritten notes received by the city. “We can reduce waste from other ways. I really hope (you) think about another way to save environment.”
Jehan Kasto Jacob, from Solana Beach Fish House, wrote that switching products would cost double to triple what he is paying now.
“I know this does not seem like much to some people but to a small business it is a lot when factoring the increase in minimum wage and California sales tax,” he wrote. “Everything all at once is just not financially feasible.
“We believe in protecting the environment and our beaches, but we also need to protect our small businesses,” Jacob added. “Small businesses are what make Solana Beach the quaint town it is.”
“The ramifications far exceed the benefits,” David Best from Masuo’s Restaurant stated in a letter to the city.
“I am a Solana Beach business owner for the past 20 yrs,” Parioli Italian Bistro’s Antonio Tarantino wrote. “My restaurant is my life.”
According to one report the price difference is 1 cent per container, which would result in an additional cost of $100 per year for a business that uses 10,000 units.
Chris Duggan, director of government affairs for the California Restaurant Association San Diego, said that estimate is about three years old.
An Internet search comparing prices between three suppliers showed polystyrene containers are generally half the price of biodegradable ones.
Councilman Peter Zahn said staff research “found very little information about negative consequences that this is hitting businesses that hard.”
Ninety jurisdictions in California currently have some type of polystyrene ban, including large cities such as Los Angeles, Huntington Beach and Berkeley.
Solana Beach’s ordinance is modeled after Santa Monica’s. The new law will prohibit businesses from dispensing food in a disposable container made from polystyrene or any other nonrecyclable container.
It will go into effect six months after the final adoption, which will likely be at the Oct. 28 meeting. Businesses that have not yet exhausted supplies at that time, or that have an existing purchase agreement, can apply for a six-month hardship waiver.
Businesses that can show an undue hardship can also apply annually for a waiver.
No such containers can be used at city facilities, city-managed concessions or city-sponsored or permitted events.
Seven of the 10 speakers at the meeting, including several people from Surfrider, urged council to adopt the ban.
Resident Gerri Retman described some of the comments made by opponents as “exaggerations” and “scare tactics.” She said Solana Beach could wait for a state ban or follow the lead of 90 other jurisdictions.
“But why should we wait?” she asked. “This is for the greater good and the long-term health of all of us.
“Things change,” she added. “The sky isn’t going to fall.”
Councilwoman Ginger Marshall was the lone vote against the ordinance. She said she sees it as a litter problem and banning polystyrene won’t stop people from throwing alternative products in the ocean.
“I fully understand the potential impact to small businesses,” Councilman Dave Zito said. “But I do think as a coastal jurisdiction we have some responsibility to our environment. … The alternatives could end up being trash, too, but this trash is much, much, much, much more impactful than the other type.”
“Some people think that it might be government overreach,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said. “Sometimes it is very important for government to get involved for the greater good.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,” she added. “We’re a city with ocean on one side and lagoons on the two other. … It’s not just a litter problem. … The alternatives will biodegrade or they can be recycled.”